The Deacon's Bench

The Deacon's Bench

“The art of listening is the first step…”

My pal Fran just posted this on her Facebook page, and it’s too good to pass up. It’s part of an interview with Jacob Needleman, an atheist who came to believe in God, and the author of a new book “What is God?”

A snip:

jacob_needleman.jpgWithout a community, without help, without interrelationship, I don’t think most human beings can ever come to true spiritual development. You need a community of some kind or other. Very rarely, if ever, without the help of environment or community or culture, does someone appear who becomes a highly evolved person, in my opinion. What kind of community would be the question, and how difficult that is.


People can relate to each other in such a way that it calls down something, and I’ve experienced that. When two or three people seriously listen to each other, speak and exchange with each other, something appears: “Where two or three come together in my name,” is, I think, a fact. It’s in the possible existence of such community that I think the hope of the world lies. I don’t think the world can make it without developed human beings, and a community supporting inner development…

…People are attached to their opinions. Put simply, that means their fears and anxieties, their agitation, have been fueled or absorbed by an idea or concept or thought. It’s hard to get to the root, because the root of this is the fundamental sleep of mankind–or corruption, or sin, or ignorance, whatever word you want to use.


And people cannot listen to each other. When we’re talking, you and I, mostly when I’m talking and trying to listen to someone I maybe hear–if I’m lucky–one-third of what they say. Mostly I hear my own thoughts, and when I try to write down what they’ve said I mix it with my own thoughts. But there is a discipline which one can obtain. It’s not that hard. It’s to step back from one’s own opinions, make a space in myself and let you in. I don’t have to agree with you but I have to let you in, so that you are heard. I hear you. And you let me in. And that way something very beautiful can appear; I can still disagree completely with you, but I don’t deny your humanity.

The art of listening is the first step of every ethics. That’s been misunderstood: as if to become good is to become ethical. But it’s not a question of acting and doing the right thing–that’s hard. But we can listen to the other, give our attention, which is our precious human substance, to the other person. When I give my attention to you it’s a little bit of love, whatever you might call it: and that’s the source of ethics. That’s been lost entirely. And it’s really practical, it can happen. But people can’t do it. They don’t do it. They don’t know they have this capacity. They think listening is simply waiting for you to pause so I can come in.


Check out the whole thing. Much food for thought!

It turns out Needleman also has a blog, though it seems to have been quiet for a while now.

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Steve P

posted January 29, 2010 at 10:21 am

Very timely, as I have just tried to engage the discussion begun by a provocative (some would say offensive) article by Matt Archbold on National Catholic Register’s blog from a couple weeks ago. It has brought forward a pretty good number of atheists, and if you can sift through the two thirds of the comments that are name-calling and other garbage, there is some good stuff there. I’ve posted to it very recently, trying to do the exact sort of listening that Needleman is talking about here. Definitely worth checking out, IMO.

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Fran Rossi Szpylczyn

posted January 29, 2010 at 10:26 am

I am glad that you liked this well enough to post this – it is really thought provoking. If we can possibly engage in discussion, rather than shooting first, amazing things can happen.
My question to those more militant (on any number of topics) than I is this: How can conversion happen without conversation?
Of course, I have been accused of relativism, liberalism and who knows what else. So be it.
I will go to check out the link put up by Steve P.

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